Posted by: CJ | February 18, 2012

Seeing the light…

I just realized I’ve had a major lack of vision over the past 5-8 years. I read a short piece that’s been linked on several different sites about the importance of libraries for bridging “The Digital Divide” in poor, under-educated communities. In this case, the digital divide means that the educated, technology literate have huge advantages conferred by technology–just think how much more capable, knowledgeable, up-to-date, and self-reliant google, wikipedia, and email enable one to be if they know how to use them.

The linked piece talks about the importance of supporting libraries to enable that. I don’t really buy the argument–if you want a community center with language and computer literacy classes, make a community center. Don’t pretend that what you really want is a library. BUT…the author is totally right that we need community centers to do this.

Anyways, my failure of imagination over the past many years was not realizing the importance of cheap computers and cheap internet even when I don’t have a clue how they’ll be used. Things like the One Laptop Per Child project, etc.. I always saw them as poorly conceived yuppie projects born of modern upper class-guilt–which they were–and nothing more. But if tech literacy–and the internet in particular–is a major driver of cognitive inequality, then we need cheaper computers and cheaper internet.

On the issue of teaching everyone how to use it….well…..at some point we’re going to truly accept that life-long technology literacy skills are as important as reading….though in the mean time a lot of people are getting screwed….

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Responses

  1. Ummmm…..yes. I didn’t realize you didn’t see that. There’s a whole long discussion possible about this topic, but this is a core issue. Have you read enough dystopian lit–1984, Brave New World, Player Piano type stuff- to see what happens to a society where the haves and have nots refers not only to material goods, but information and technology?

  2. I guess what I really hadn’t gotten were things like One Laptop Per Child. So making really cheap laptops with cheap operating systems and cheap software without extensive training programs seemed really poorly thought out to me. The communities they were made for didn’t have the technical know-how to do anything with them.

    What I didn’t see was poverty is persistent enough, and schools have been slow enough to modernize, that they weren’t going to have ANY chance to get that know-how through existing outlets. It looks like it’s not going to happen until the hardware was cheap enough to become pervasive in such under-serviced communities.

  3. I guess the other thing I hadn’t thought about is how big a morass this will be in the future.

    More services, including commercial and government services, will go online. It’s cheaper, more practical, and more convenient for people (1) with internet and (2) the computer skills to use it.

    But then effective use of government programs and being a smart consumer will require good consumer skills. Which means the people that rely the most on government programs and savy consumer choices will need better computer skills. But those communities typically encompass the poor, the under-educated, and the elderly–all of whom are notorious for their low level of tech skills.

    So, in short, my big realization is the poor, under-educated, and elderly are going to get screwed over–badly–in all sorts of new ways over the next decade UNLESS their computer know-how and general information finding skills rise drastically.

    And they likely won’t even understand how they’re getting screwed over, since how do you explain to someone that isn’t tech savy how they COULD be using the internet…


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